Monday, July 23, 2007


Looking in on the Internet Generation

Nearly all Americans of the past century have felt a profound sense of belonging to the respective generations which they could identify themselves with. The Greatest Generation overcame the Great Depression and gave us a world safe from totalitarianism. The Beat Generation gave misfits a sense of belonging through their vast volume of literature which convinced millions disgruntled English majors that surely they couldn't write poetry that made any less sense.

Then there's the Baby Boom Generation who, for what they lacked in literary achievement and military accomplishment, more than made up for it in terms of sheer numbers. Their legacy is not in doubt; their contributions to the US budget deficit and discretionary spending will be remembered long after they have left the mortal coil (sigh).

What is less certain is the fate of my peers, who are now being called the Internet Generation. This is the generation that has popularized instant messenger, online friends' networks, and internet encyclopedias which allow the entire online community to share knowledge.

On the upside, this generation of Americans will have a network of social and business opportunities that was never enjoyed before. On the not-so-upside, this generation of Americans spends so much time networking at these places that they probably won't be winning any track meets in the foreseeable future.

All of this leads many people to speculate about the future of the Internet Generation: will they create a world where geographical and national boundaries are erased, and people of all nations may socialize and trade freely? Or, will all societies be crippled by the great Carpal Tunnel Epidemic of 2018? Many from outside this generation are speculating about its chances, and I count myself among the unbiased observers. You see, I'm the same age as the Internet Generation, but I'm not one of them; I'm just watching along with the rest of you.

I can pinpoint the cause of my alienation as stemming from many factors, but if I were on trial I'd have to blame my upbringing. It wouldn't be a hard case to make: I grew up in Tennessee. In fact, not just anywhere in the Volunteer State, actually; but 10 miles outside the metropolis of Paris, Tenn. Places such as this are the mountain peaks that the dam burst of technology floods last.

My family started using CDs in 1993. We first got cable TV just after the 1996 Olympic Games. We got our first dial-up Internet connection in the latter half of 1998. In my childhood home on the outskirts of Paris, that dial-up connection is still in use today.

Over the years I have attempted to make contact with many of those that I grew up with in the late '90s, during the Internet Generation's formative years. All I have hoped to discover is that a few people I grew up with use the Internet to regularly communicate with old friends, the way God intended it be used.

However, it seems that all the people I know who are my age fall into two polar opposite categories. The most technologically astute of my former classmates are so deeply embedded in the Web that a novice like me will never find them. The other group are those who long ago logged on and saw that they could make friends around the world, start an online business, or at least regularly keep up with friends who live far away.

With all these opportunities ahead of them, they each decided that they would use this technology to play Internet billiards each night when work ended. "It's just like real billiards, except it's less physically strenuous!" they've all probably exclaimed at one point or another.

So, my best bet for getting good mileage out of the 'Net rests not with old friends, but with the new ones all over the globe who are probably sitting in a comfortably padded chairs allowing them to preserve their rear quarters even as they exacerbate their astigmatism. It doesn't take more than a simple Google search to discover that there are hundreds of sites, blogs and list serves for whatever your interest may be: rugby, Scorsese movies, the pre-Glass Houses albums of Billy Joel.

Once in awhile I'll look at blogs and sites featuring things I'm interested in and sometimes leave comments. Meanwhile, web-philes apparently visit these sites daily and leave their mark, sometimes getting excited over who can post first. When I visit these sites, I wonder, not only what it takes to bond with people like these, but also whether I'd even want to.

If the highlight of someone's day is to post online comments on a Billy Joel site, are they really going to be good company? Is the Internet Generation's push toward a global community and a robust marketplace creating a world full of unhealthy people who don't know their neighbors? One day we'll know for sure.

Until then, billiards, anyone?

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